As a network TV One could not be more pleased to present the amazing and incredible story of some unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, and how Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger, launched what became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but also was a real catalyst for the larger civil rights movement. Behind the Movement will be premiering Sunday February 11th on TV One.
Prestige was able to sit down with the amazing casts of Behind the Movement…. Meta Golding who plays Rosa Parks, Isaiah Washington, who plays Edgar, E.D Nixon, and the incomparable Loretta Devine who plays Jo Ann Robinson in the film. Also we were joined by director, Aric Avelino and screenwriter, Katrina O’Gilvie.
Tosha: Behind the Movement is really a labor of love and something that TV One couldn’t be more proud to presented as the crown jewel in their Black History Month programming slate, and with that, I wanted to open things up to Karen Peterkin who is over our scripted development and programming at the network to talk a little bit about this project and give us an overview of Behind the Movement. Karen.
Karen: Thank you. A little background on Behind the Movement. Most of us when we were growing up, were taught that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus because she was tired, or because she didn’t feel like getting up, and that’s partially true, it was because she was tired of what was going on at the time. Emmett Till had been murdered a few months prior – about six months prior, a few months before the boycott began, his murderers were acquitted.
So, there was an uneasiness in the community, and a large amount of fear among African Americans, and just a lot of mis treatment as we all know. The behind the movement is the story of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. You will learn about Rosa Parks who was a seamstress, who worked in a department store. She was also the secretary of the NAACP, and it was her job to not only record – not only take the meeting, the minutes of the meeting, but to also keep track of the number of lynching’s that were occurring at the time. You have Edgar E.D Nixon who was the head of the NAACP at that time, who none of us had heard of.
These are all but hidden figures, you had Jo Ann Robinson who was one of the prominent members of NAACP, and also one of the prominent women in the community, and of course we have Raymond Parks who was Rosa Parks’ husband, who also many people don’t realize that he was involved with working to bring attention to the Scotts borough boys defense, and that was also something that was very dangerous for him, and the people who were involved, so he was very concerned about his wife becoming the face of the movement.
Tosha: Thank you so much Karen for that overview and the insight. I’m going to begin with our director, Aric Avelino in terms of opening statements. You were the fearless leader on this production Aric, and you had to create a world that many of us obviously haven’t seen for many years. You had to make this time period very, very real in order to tell this story. Can you speak a little bit to what it meant to you to be a part of the telling of this important story?
Aric: Yeah, I mean my job was made a lot easier by an incredible script by Katrina O’Gilvie and by an incredible cast. I think when you start a story with those elements and a story that so many of us care about as part of not just African American History, but American History, it’s something that makes coming to work every day so much easier. For me it’s an important story in a way because my grandmother marched with Dr. King and my other grandmother was at Emmet Till’s funeral. My father was the first to integrate his school in Washington, D.C, and so these are things that I grew up with. I was really excited to learn more about.
I mean, I learned through Katrin’s script as well, when this was first brought to me. I didn’t realize that there was four days between when Rosa gave up her seat and when the boycott began, and I can’t imagine what it took to organize and undertake such a big ordeal. And then upon learning about all the people who contributed to that, not only Rosa Parks and her husband Raymond, but I learned about E.D Nixon, who I’d never heard about which was astonishing to me, who with a brigade of women really launched the boycott. These are the people, the unsung heroes we really didn’t learn about in school because history books didn’t always make time for that.
But I think it’s important to recognize that these people mobilized in a way that even now would be challenging, and I was excited to bring that to life with the level of authenticity and with the incredible cast that was capable of making it authentic, because a lot of times these stories are painted with just a broad brush, and we think of these people as just heroes and icons, but we don’t really get to know them as people, because they have their own challenges, they have their own doubts, and they have their own fears, and I think – I hope that we were able to bring that to light in the film.
Tosha: Thank you so much Aric, and so well said. The words on the page are everything. These brilliant actors can’t bring the story to life without those words, and we were so blessed to have the gifted Katrina O’Gilvie as our screenwriter on this project. Katrina, can you tell us what was your process? And talk to us about what you hope to accomplish with this project?
Katrina: The process was exciting, the project was exciting to me, I love history, I actually grew up in the south of Spain, and in European countries we learned history very, very early, and history is incredibly important. So, I was really excited to have the opportunity to dive in and learn more about such an incredible experience and such an incredible woman. But it was also very daunting, and very challenging for me emotionally because as I was researching 1950’s, 1955, in the south in America, we were in the middle of an election, and I was seeing so many parallels in 1955 to 2017 and it was disappointing and sad that so many of the things that we went through in the ‘50’s was somehow creeping back into this country’s frontlines where it became much more visible. And that was a big challenge.
On the other side of it, it also became even more important that I tell the story as fluidly as I could with so much of it being truthful. So there’s actually very little in this film that is not correct, it’s all historical, and there are a few characters who are actually created by me, and I was able to dive into, through the incredible talent of the people who were actually there who made this possible, and who had the fear with fortitude to move forward in a time where this had never been done, and they did not know what would come of it, and they all knew that they were putting their lives on the line. And again, most people think that the boycott was planned out for a very long time, but it was actually a very short period of time, it was an idea, but once they got started, they wanted to do it in a short period of time, so it became four days. Then it lasted far longer than the one day that they had planned, and it needed to make the impact that ended up being life changing.
Tosha: Thank you, thank you so much Katrina. So, next we will hear from our star Meta Golding who so uncannily portrays this incredible woman. Meta can you talk to us about becoming and channeling the spirit of Rosa Parks? And how you became her. You physically became her. I’ve certainly never met Rosa Parks but imagine if I had she would be exactly as you embodied her. So, can you talk about that?
Meta: Yes. Thank you so much for being here, this is such an honor for me to come and speak about our show. And it’s such an honor to have been given the opportunity to step into the shoes of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Before I say that, I really have to say that Aric Avelino, our fantastic director, I felt like was my partner, really guided me and made me trust everything that I was doing, along with my illustrious cast, Isaiah Washington, Mrs. Lorretta Devine, Roger Guenveur Smith, and everyone else. And the script was completely inspiring. So, at first, I got Katrina’s beautiful script and it had a lot of references that I could – that was a jumping off point because for me of course I knew who Rosa Parks was and what she did, but I really only knew what she did and her image. I didn’t know anything about her past. I didn’t know that before she gave up her seat in 1955 that she was a seasoned activist, that she was the secretary of the NAACP along with E.D Nixon, and I got all this – and what I did because I’m a little bit of a nerd is I read Mrs. Parks was a prolific author so I read everything I could that she wrote and there was also lots of biographies about her, and there was also some audio and video of her in 1955.
But these were all interviews, so they were a little bit stilted and also there was a very specific strategy that the NAACP had by choosing to have Mrs. Parks as the face to sort of promote her as an everyday woman, and she was an everyday woman, but not so much as an activist and as part of the movement along with her other – the other Montgomery activists. Because at the time, it was a very, very challenging time for black folks in the segregated south, a very dangerous time for them to even join the boycott, so they needed to promote this image of a very reserved, church going, responsible person, which she was, but that wasn’t the full story. I also went to a lot of churches because the historically, black churches were always part of organizing and the civil rights movement, and Mrs. Parks was a woman of faith, and gained a lot of strength and courage from her faith. And I always find it so interesting the way people worship, it informs a lot about a person I find. So that’s all the work I did in the very short time that we all had before we began, but then once I was there, I think that just my cast members, everybody just came in so prepared and just these are the most beautiful actors you will ever see or work with, and Aric, our director, I really felt supported, so there we go.
Tosha: Okay, thank you so much Meta, and now we’ll hear from Isaiah Washington who portrays the character E.D Nixon. Isaiah, would you like to say a few words about participating in the project? And the impact that you hope it has?
Isaiah: Okay that’s big, this movie impacted me greatly. Almost 30 years I’ve been doing this and I still have the nerve to be picky, and I only am motivated by things that move my spirit, that moves my spirit first, now I’m soon to be 55, and I read a lot, and Katrina O’Gilvie’s words, they struck me as a surrealist, trying to have a conversation at a time where surrealism needs to be brought back. It was not just the civil rights movement, but I felt like another artist was speaking to me and saying, Rise Up, bring the best you can best to move souls. That’s what I read, one call and it was to Cathy Hughes, and I said, “Miss H, I’m moved. I’m moved by this piece and I’m grateful that you’ve chose to tell this story.”
Everybody worked so hard on this movie, and that was unbelievably inspiring, coming off of such a tough, rough, ugly, and nasty campaign to end up how we got politically. So, I look to TVOne, I look to everyone to thank you for giving me a breath of fresh air, where I can feel good about being who I am as a male of color, a man, a father, and an artist. So, I hope that is what people will take away from this film, because it certainly was my humble offering to work for the first time with the great Loretta Devine, get to know Meta, and still get in with Roger Guenveur Smith so thank you all for that.
Tosha: Thank you. Thank you so much, and what a great segue to hear from the amazing Loretta Devine who was a blessing to have on this movie. In the embodiment of Jo Ann Robinson. So, Loretta can you just share with us your thoughts on this project and what it meant to you?
Loretta: Yes. I’m so excited to be doing this because I thought I knew a lot about the Montgomery bus boycott because you studied it in history and, it happened in 1955, and I was a young girl then myself, and I was amazed at the things that I didn’t know, and what the people will learn as a result of seeing this movie. Jo Ann Robinson, is an incredible woman. People think that this happened in a short period of time, but they had been planning and working on this for three years before it actually happened. Before Rosa Parks was arrested and when E Gray called her she got on the phone because she was the president of the woman’s political council. They had women in stations all over Alabama, and they immediately went to work on making the flyers, they got everything done in a matter of days.
Silvia: Good evening, everybody, I want to start by saying I’m just so proud of everybody. I’m a native of Montgomery, Alabama, I was born and raised here, and I recently moved back here. So, being able to see through the trailer that I watched the authenticity that was put into it, I was just blown away.
So, my question is, what was the selection process like, that was used in order to cast the talent for this extraordinary film?
Karen: Sylvia, what we did was called offer-only, where we made a list of actors and actresses for each role who we wanted to work with. Aric was very involved in that process and we – I personally believe who you’re supposed to have, is who you will have. So, you can reach out to people, but at the end of the day, the cast that you’re supposed to have, are the people who are supposed to portray those characters. And our cast was amazing.
I think that, quite honestly, this is a part of their purpose in their careers, and as human beings, to portray these people, and to educate, not just our community, but the world – I’m just going to quote Isaiah Washington to “portray these hidden figures of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the start of the Civil Rights’ Movement. And Aric, you know, you might want to contribute to this as well, because you were the visionary.
Aric: Yeah, I mean definitely. You don’t audition Isaiah Washington, Loretta Devine, Meta Golding, and Roger Guenveur Smith, you ask them if they wouldn’t mind lending their talents to a project like this. And fortunate for us, they said yes.
And I will speak to – thank goodness for Leah Daniels Butler, for helping us find those folks, because she’s phenomenal. Meta was introduced to us through Leah Daniels Butler, and she was, it was, I’m very fortunate that she did, because when Meta came on she just, she was all in, from the very beginning. Long conversations, and so much work having been done on her part, even before we got on our first call. I do want to say one last thing about this though, is we were really blessed to be able to cast a lot of the other roles in Atlanta, where there’s just such a wealth of talent, and I was – frankly, I was amazed by it.
I live on the West Coast, and I know Atlanta is becoming, in a way, like the new Hollywood, and there’s so many talented people, and the people that we were able to see in auditions, and the people that showed up to set, were, they’re really incredible. And they had done their homework, and they were anxious to play these roles. Because, like you, Silvia, they had come from those neighborhoods, they had grown up hearing those stories, and we had a selection and a wealth of talent that just amazed me. And you’ll see that throughout the film. There’s so many ensemble moments in there, and you know, it allows everyone to shine because everyone really was bringing it.